Up close and personal with Santa Claus
Long before Branson and Bezos, there was Claus. While we are accustomed to jolly bearded surrogates in shopping centres, the real founder and CEO of Christmas Inc. is notoriously media adverse. But on this rare occasion, ol’ St Nick revealed to HR expert Richard Wynn what it takes to be the biggest global brand in the world.
Mr Claus, thank you for your time. How have you maintained such an enduring and beloved brand for all these centuries?
I follow two simple principles. I never lose sight of our customers’ needs, and we have stood firm on what we are about, what you would call our ‘brand’.
Your elves are part of that renowned brand, but have you ever considered automating your factories and replacing headcount?
Poppycock. Never. Our people are not part of our brand – they are our brand.
The popularised wooden toy workshop is a nod to traditionalists, but in reality, the elves pioneered the first truly automated operation. From procurement and manufacturing to warehousing and supply chain, they literally wrote the book on modern industrial practices.
Where do you think big data originated? We know where everyone lives, we know when they’re asleep, when they’re awake and we’ve collated billions of wish lists and collected intel on the naughty and nice for the past few centuries.
Suffice to say, my teams are incredibly well trained, loyal, and part of the family – we are in this together.
What about your reindeer and sleigh, have you had to consider alternate logistics and delivery operations?
Our proprietary logistics, distribution and transport platforms are highly classified, but I’ve had an eggnog or two so I will say that ‘reindeer’ is the name of our operating system. In fact, Dasher, Dancer and the gals are now all active board members of Christmas Inc.
Your reindeer are female?
Firstly they’re not reindeer, they’re non-executive directors. Secondly yes, most of them are female. Blixen, Dasher, Dancer and Comet are the four fellas on the team. Dasher and Dancer have been together for years now. Comet doesn’t want to settle down, broke poor Prancer’s heart… but that’s another story altogether.
How do you get up and down the chimney?
Once again, that’s classified.
There’s a lot of disruption in retail, eschewing automation have you changed your operations in any way to accommodate this?
Fiddlesticks. There weren’t even retail stores when I started let alone online giants like Amazon. For us, disruption is just part of a continually evolving retail landscape. The trick is to evolve with them, collaborate where possible, keep your teams well trained and motivated and always stick to your values and purpose.
How does one evolve with disruption?
We’ve always taken an insights-first approach – we listen to our customers. Let’s not forget we pioneered direct market research with wish lists and our network of mall agents. If we only listened to suppliers, or only used past behaviours as predictives, we’d have a warehouse full of Tamagotchis, Beanie Babies and Jar Jar Binks dolls.
Many experts claim consumer demands have changed dramatically. Do you find this is the case?
Change is inevitable on so many levels. However, what will never change is our purpose. I set out a long time ago to bring joy to the world, especially to children.That is our guiding light and purpose.
You mentioned your values before. Can you elaborate on this?
Some people think my business is about the toys that we make and deliver. But the real gift, the true meaning of Christmas, is that of kindness, of generosity and gratitude. Our entire operation runs on these values. They unite us. It’s the stuff that seeps through from the workshop floor to the gifting itself. You can’t whack a bow on that.
Have times ever been so tough that it has been difficult to stick to those values?
Codswallop. It’s when the chips are down that you really need to stand by those values and reaffirm your purpose. That’s when my team rallies the hardest.
The reason we have lasted for as long as we have is because, despite blizzards and Grinches and Scrooges, we haven’t wavered on what it is we are about – to bring joy, love and peace. This is our purpose. That’s what we’ve all signed up for.
If we were to just throw in the towel because things got tough, well, that’s brand death right there. It wouldn’t be tech giants or changing consumer demands that did us in. Losing sight of our purpose – that would be the end of us.
So you have no fear of being replaced or made redundant?
Twaddle. Take it from an old hand at this – humankind is unwavering in its desire for a great experience.
Here’s your Christmas checklist: Make sure you’ve got the right people on your team, get them all on the same page, motivate them, train them, trust them, respect your competition, use insights, streamline your operations – and you’ll be able to deliver amazing customer experiences forever more.